Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lent 4

Lent 4, 2012
The Rev'd Christopher L. Epperson

There are several features to this Gospel text that cry out for explanation. First, Jesus is in conversation with a pharisee, Nicodemus, a member of the religious establishment. Remember, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He came under the cover of darkness and was fearful. Nicodemus was part of the established order, yet he saw something in Jesus that called him to seek more information. We come upon them after they have had the discussion about being "born from above" or being "born again".

Nicodemus doesn't quite get it, so Jesus delves into Israel's history. Jesus invokes the time after Israel was freed from Egypt, spared at the Passover and delivered at the Red Sea. Israel was wandering in the wilderness, awaiting the land of promise. In the midst of one of the cycles of whining, being punished by God and then saved, Israel fell prey to a plague of snake that bit and killed many. The 21st Chapter of the book of Numbers tells us God sent the snakes as punishment for the latest episode of murmuring.

While the scriptures often speak in terms of God's punishment, I think it is too simplistic. Rather than reflecting the actual working of God, I wonder if we are not talking about something much more human. I wonder if the negative consequences experienced and illustrated are ascribed to God because the characters are moved to repentance through the negative outcomes.

The saving act in this vignette occurred when God had Moses make a bronze image of a serpent to hold up for Israel to see, and it somehow neutralized the snake bites.

Jesus invokes this story to cast his ministry and identity in these saving terms. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that God is doing again, what God does, but in a new, stunning and complete way. The promised, hoped for, but surprising way.

The problem is, however, the same. Moses encountered resistance to God's offer of be God and Israel be God's people. It was often compromised by the longing for a certain kind of satisfaction. Call it prosperity. Call certainty or comfort.

Nicodemus is part of the culture of the haves. He comes to Jesus secretly because he fears losing what he has. He senses God's work in Jesus. Nicodemus longs for the fulfillment of the Kingdom, the new day, the new age, but he is where he is and has what he has. For now, Nicodemus will have to stay put and wonder.

Much of the culture Jesus faced resided in darkness, fear and resistance. Jesus offered a bigger view of humanity, God's love and reign of peace. The resistance Jesus faced, the resistance that led to his death was invested in the prosperity of the moment, comfort and status quo.

Jesus said that kind of culture is under God's judgement already. That Judgement isn't bound up in a desire to judge, so much as it is bound up in rejection and resistance. Is it judgement when darkness is chosen over grace, love and God's reign of freedom?

Last week, I was intrigued by Gregg Smith's piece in the NYT about leaving Goldman Sachs. I don't know Gregg Smith and I don't know too much about the culture of Goldman Sachs, but I was fascinated by Smith's portrayal of a firm that had lost its way, no longer faithful servants of clients, but greedy and self-serving, choosing to earn profits for the company over the clients they serve. Smith painted the picture in moral terms. He felt under judgement and chose another way.

I think Smith's story is the good news of acknowledging judgement.

I usually know when I am headed down the wrong path. I usually know when I am acting out of fear and for self-serving reasons. Most of us know when we are in a state of grace or in a state of sin.

The Good News is that through God's grace we are given insight and freedom to embrace and the just, faithful and righteous course. We are gifted with the spark of divinity within us, that won't let us alone, when we are embracing something other than the right. We know when we are wrong. We know that God is the God of redemption and forgiveness.

Hopefully, we remember not just John 3:16, but John 3:17.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lent 1 Notes

The experience of regret is positively awful. We live our lives doing the best we can, yet in certain circumstances and relationships, things don't always turn out well. What could we have done differently, we wonder. The nature of regret is that the time to correct a situation has past. Regrets must be lived with and accepted.

Hospice workers offer an interesting window into the nature of regret. Those that work with the dying hear from the dying about matters of great substance. Those close to the dying hear about regret and the regrets are remarkably similar.

1-I wish I lived true to myself and my dreams, rather than the life others expected of me.

2-I wish I had balanced work better with my relationships.

3-I wish I had been more courageous and shared my feelings with others.

4-I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.

5-I wish I had let myself be happier.
( By T Kelly)

These five themes speak to the essence of personhood and authentic humanity. We are created as individuals, we are made for relationships, and those relationships are to be environments of honesty and safety. Finally, our sense of fulfillment hinges on our willingness and courageousness to embrace all the above.

We are often, however, tempted to be and do less. We accept the overlay of others to the detriment of our dreams and passions. We often allow the definition of success prescribed by others to sway us from what we believe is right and dare I say, faithful.

We are tempted to throw ourselves into being productive and successful, while our friends and intimates don't get enough of us. Too often we don't reveal enough of our innermost selves to those for whom we have the deepest of affection. Too often we let people we care about slip in and out of our lives from lack of attention or some perceived slight. Sins of omission and commission.

In all of it, we are tempted to be less than we are.

This first Sunday of Lent focuses us on Jesus and his temptation. The Gospel of Mark merely enters the temptation by title. Matthew and Luke give us the detail we remember, it may be that the detail was so well known in the telling, Mark doesn't feel the need to rehearse it. We know the temptation of Jesus was the offering of a full belly, the manifestation of divine power in vain and wealth and power.

Jesus answers all the temptations quoting the book of Deuteronomy. Jesus invokes the Torah, the very core of the Jewish identity to rebuff the temptations. Jesus goes to the heart of the tradition that illustrates the dynamic relationship between God and Israel. Identity, passion, honesty and fulfillment are found at that core.

The temptation for Jesus is to be less than he is.

That is the temptation we face as well.

The good news is that in Christ we find the way away from the path of living for self alone. In Jesus, we find another way, a way toward fullness and abundance, rather than less. The good news is that God gives us grace and messengers that minister to us, that we might grasp more with no regrets.

Lent 1

Click on Lent 1 title to go to video.